Antiwargames: How would you have responded to September 11? Futurefarmers created this simulation as a way of getting at the intricacies involved in responses to that attack. I'm not sure I understand the game's critique (read a discussion of the game here), but it's far more nuanced than the new game making the rounds, Bushgame: Anti-Bush Online Game, a confusing tale of Hulk Hogan rounding up pot-bellied superheros to defeat the Liberty-screwing Bush machine.


Torturous alliances: In an article speculating whether the US traded interrogation training for security contracts with Israeli companies, Ali Abunimah writes, "Although no evidence has emerged directly linking [American defense contractor] CACI's involvement in the Abu Ghraib atrocities to Israel, it has long been known that the US military has been interested in 'learning' from Israel's experience attempting to suppress the Palestinian uprising. In March 2003, for example, the AP reported that the 'the (US) military has been listening closely to Israeli experts and picking up tips from years of Israeli Army operations in Palestinian areas and Lebanese towns.'" The torture techniques long used by Israel against Palestinians match those used in Abu Ghraib: "hooding, sleep deprivation, time disorientation and depriving prisoners not only of dignity, but of fundamental human needs, such as warmth, water and food." But, as John Stanton writes, Israel's and the US's interrogation method really come from the British, who developed "five pillars of torture"--wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, deprivation of food and water--over 30 years of interrogating IRA members in Northern Ireland.

Also: Lisa Hajjar writes in the Middle East Report Online that torture occurs today in two-thirds of the world's countries, that Israel was the first country to publicly break the "torture taboo," and on how the right to not be tortured became international law.
Frances Moore Lappe on Fear: Yes! Magazine runs a surprising interview with Diet for a Small Planet author Frances Moore Lappe. An excerpt:
I think we are at a new evolutionary stage. We evolved in tight-knit tribes in which we faced death if we didn’t have the support of the rest of the tribe. So little wonder that it can seem unthinkable to say “no, thanks” to the modern-day equivalent of our tribe—our fear-driven culture.

The problem is that our whole tribe—if you will, the larger community of humanity itself—is on a death march ecologically and in terms of the intensification of violence and conflict. So breaking with the pack may be exactly what we should be doing. Saying “no” to the dominant culture that is trapping us in destructive ways of living might be the most life-serving thing we can do. Fear doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to stop. It doesn’t mean that we are failures. It doesn’t mean that we are cowards. It means that we are human beings walking into the unknown, and that we are risking breaking with others for something we believe in.


Rodeohead: Such ethereal twang: Radiohead, as interpreted by a bluegrass band--complete with banjo, jaw harp, and slide guitar. (Via BoingBoing.)


Crest Frightening Expressions: Branding-induced seizures at a recent taping of the TV show The Apprentice. Egad:
Contestants had been recruited to sell a new toothpaste, Crest Whitening Expressions, in "Refreshing Vanilla Mint" flavor with scratch-and-sniff boxes. At least one of the teams ended up in Washington Square Park, where it hired a plump 51-year-old woman (apparently a street person) to haul the empty boxes back to the truck and bring the contestants new boxes for the munificent sum of $20.

As the woman worked, she was reported to mumble, "I have to do a good job for Crest." After about an hour, she had worked herself into a trance, and she started rolling on the ground chanting "Crest! Crest! Crest!" Finally, an off-duty EMT technician and another passerby helped the woman back to the Crest truck -- where she promply had a seizure and passed out across the front seats.

After being out for three minutes, the woman awoke, vomited, and then said, "Where's my money?"
It remains to be decided if this hunk of reality makes it into the final cut of this reality TV show.
Neoconned: Sidney Blumenthal writes on an investigation that's getting little play in the US mainstream press: which neocon Bush advisor(s) leaked classified information to Ahmed Chalabi, a man "identified by the CIA and Defence Intelligence Agency as an Iranian double-agent, passing secrets to that citadel of the 'axis of evil' for decades," and why did the Bush administration cover up this fact? Robert Scheer asks, "We might start investigating which Bush official arranged for this hustler — already on the lam for a decade from major banking fraud convictions in Jordan — to sit behind First Lady Laura Bush during this year's State of the Union speech. Was the Secret Service watching her purse?"


Sontag on Abu Ghraib: Susan Sontag writes on images of torture in today's Guardian:
[T]here seems no reversing for the moment America's commitment to self-justification, and the condoning of its increasingly out-of-control culture of violence. Soldiers now pose, thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send off the pictures to their buddies and family. What is revealed by these photographs is as much the culture of shamelessness as the reigning admiration for unapologetic brutality. Ours is a society in which secrets of private life that, formerly, you would have given nearly anything to conceal, you now clamour to get on a television show to reveal.
She also writes that the "administration's initial response was to say that the president was shocked and disgusted by the photographs--as if the fault or horror lay in the images, not in what they depict," an opinion back up by this fact: Rumsfeld has reportedly instituted a military-wide ban on digital cameras, camcorders and cellphones with cameras.

Also: Sontag's Regarding the Torture of Others from yesterday's New York Times Magazine.


Mobile radio for mass protest: I've been told that Neurotransmitter, a media collective in New York, plans to distribute "com_muni_ports"--backpack-contained "radio broadcast units created for short range pedestrian broadcasting"--for alternative reporting of proceedings and protests at the Republican National Convention, August 30 through September 2. Beautiful idea.

Bikes against Bush: Joshua Kinberg is building cyberbikes for the RNC protests. Internet users will be able to log onto his weblog to request messages that will then be marked on the sidewalks of New York using computer-controlled chalk-spraying devices. His thesis advisor--yes, he's writing his thesis on related topics--Yury Gitman, is the man behind the MagicBike, "a mobile WiFi (wireless Internet) hotspot that gives free Internet connectivity wherever its ridden or parked." As Gitman says on his site, "I am like the ice cream man, but with no music and I deliver free wireless access and not ice cream." More technoprotest: Bluetooth Users Against Bush.

New York City Rising: Visit CounterConvention to learn about events and resources related to the massive protests--one million people from across America united against Bush, war, and a repressive Republican administration--planned for the Convention. (See the posters!) Others planning action: RNC Not Welcome in NYC and United for Peace and Justice.
Brand Iraq: Iraq sneakers?


Costs of War: Thanks to Rich for reminding me of Costofwar.com, which at this second, calculates the expenditures on the war in Iraq at $114,432,544,567. And, naturally, that's not counting the Iraqi civilian (as much as 11,005) and US military lives (797) lost.
The Logo-ization of Abu Ghraib: iRaq There's something compelling about this and something creepy: someone in New York City has been culturejamming street advertisements for Apple's iPod, inserting a silhouetted version of Abu Ghraib's shrouded and wired victim amongst grooving iPod-wearing hipsters. Blending into the posterized personages on the iPod ads, these ads for iRaq are signed off with the tagline: "10,000 Volts in your pocket, guilty or innocent." The Grunewald-esque photographs of torture make a visceral case against the US occupation of Iraq--one, when simplified into a silhouetted icon, carries the kind of emotional heft as, say, Nike's dunking Air Jordan (something Freewayblogger seems to have picked up on weeks ago). From a graphical standpoint, the miltary's so-called "bad apples" sure stumbled upon a powerful image. But it's this reductive nature that's somehow disconcerting. Like the meaningless but somehow compelling abstraction of Nike's swoosh, the image simplifies to the extent that every criticism of the war can be loaded into it. Is the Abu Ghraib wired man the brand essence of a souring war and occupation? Earlier: A reworking of another Abu Ghraib image--that of hot-dogging GI Lyndie English--into an iPod graphic, from Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.


Memory & Exile: The Borderless Art of Emily Jacir

Every morning I walk my dog around Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. Nothing special, just the comfortable familiarity that comes with wandering beloved terrain day in and day out. But sometimes I wonder: what if this was all gone, if I was banned from ever coming here again? How, then, would I cherish this mundane ritual? Artist Emily Jacir addresses these issues head-on, telling the stories of people who don’t have the luxury of pondering such what-ifs--Palestinians in exile, both within Israel and abroad.

The reality of not being able to return home, or to move freely, is at the heart of Jacir’s recent project Where We Come From (2001–2003). A Palestinian artist with an American passport, Jacir can travel where other Palestinians can’t--into and out of the Occupied Territories, to her parents’ home in Ramallah and to her studio in New York. For the project she asked exiled Palestinians: "If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?" She then took their answers--"Go to my mother’s grave in Jerusalem on her birthday and put flowers and pray." "Drink the water in my parents’ village." "Go to Gaza and eat Sayadiyeh."--and set out to fulfill them.

She paid the phone bill of a man who is forbidden from going to the Jerusalem post office himself. She delivered hugs and kisses to missed family members, took a snapshot of an ancestral home, played soccer with a random boy in Haifa, lit a candle on the beach. She documented her encounters with a photo or video, each shot from her vantage point, a perspective that allowed the person to project themselves into forbidden spaces, if only virtually. The work’s presentation is serene: requests, printed in English and Arabic, are mounted beside the documentation. In this stillness, the border between worlds seems both photograph-thin and unmercifully impassable.

These themes--exile and memory--permeate much of Jacir’s work. In From Texas With Love (2002), she uses an American icon of freedom--a wide-open highway--to evoke the smothered dreams of Palestinians. Again, she began with a question: “If you had the freedom to get in a car and drive for one hour without being stopped (imagine that there is no Israeli military occupation, no Israeli soldiers, no Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks, no 'bypass' road) what song would you listen to?” She set their selections--51 songs ranging from Madonna’s "Material Girl" to traditional Arabic music--to an expansive hourlong video, a continuous shot down a seemingly unending roadway. Created during an artist residency in Texas, the piece was about "being in a place so incredible and beautiful and being able to drive freely and to listen to music, and at the same time wanting to cry because this cannot happen back home."

But while Jacir’s work is tinged with sadness, it’s also spiked with humor. In her subversive Sexy Semite (2000–2002), she peppered the Village Voice with personal ads for Palestinians looking to settle down in Israel. One asks "Do you love milk & honey? I’m ready to start a big family in Israel. Still have house keys." Another, more pointed, reads: "You stole the land. May as well take the women! Redhead Palestinian ready to be colonized by your army." The ads slyly suggest a way around an irreconcilable issue in the Middle East peace process: by marrying Israelis, Palestinians can gain citizenship and thus sidestep calls for the "right of return" (an unfulfilled provision of UN Resolution 194 that promises Palestinian refugees the chance to return home). But, given their placement in the love-wanted section instead of world news, the ads seem less about policy than the personal. Individual lives--people seeking love, a sense of home, the kind of daily routine you and I enjoy--are profoundly impacted by the occupation. And perhaps it’s through individual relationships that the conflict can ease. As one ad punned: "Palestinian Male working in a difficult occupation. I’m looking for a Jewish Beauty... Only you can help me find my way Home."
"Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth."

--Shirley Chisholm, first African American elected to Congress, first woman and first African American to run for president, subject of the new film Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed


Ten stories the world needs to know more about: The United Nations Department of Public Information has posted ten under-reported stories--"second-rung issues that need more thorough, balanced and regular attention." The list:
Uganda: Child soldiers at centre of mounting humanitarian crisis

Central African Republic: a silent crisis crying out for help

AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa: a looming threat to future generations

The peacekeeping paradox: as peace spreads, surge in demand strains UN resources

Tajikistan: rising from the ashes of civil war

Women as peacemakers: from victims to re-builders of society

Persons with disabilities: a treaty seeks to break new ground in ensuring equality

Bakassi Peninsula: Recourse to the law to prevent conflict

Overfishing: a threat to marine biodiversity

Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation  

Powell mislead (and unplugged): Colin Powell, who in his February 2003 speech before the UN Security Council spoke of "firsthand descriptions" the US had of biological weapons labs in Iraq, now admits that the intelligence community provided him with information that was "deliberately misleading." What the mainstream press isn't reporting from this story is Powell's feisty display of independence with his press secretary. When Tim Russert of Meet the Press began asking Powell about the administration's bogus claims that Iraq possessed yellowcake uranium, Powell's press aide turned the camera away, attempting to shut down the interview. Off-camera, Powell can be heard telling her, "Emily, get out of the way. Bring the camera back please." (See footage here.)
Ride oil-free: With crude oil approaching $42 a gallon and prices unlikely to ease soon, National Bike-to-Work Week couldn't be better timed. If you live in the Twin Cities, check out the 2004 Commuter Challenge. Click here to learn about ridesharing, bike routes, and special bus passes.


Love, Republican-style: Having trouble finding that special someone to snuggle up on the couch with to watch Fox News and Hannity & Colmes? Lookin' for a lover who thinks that those whiners at Abu Ghraib should zip it and that George Bush is the best thing since, well, George Bush? Tired of trolling online dating sites and finding only "liberals that don't really share your viewpoints on important issues?" Well, gee whiz, now there's a place for you: singlerepublican.com. (Alas, SingleDemocrat.com is no longer operating, I've been told.)

Beetle Bailey remixed: Beetle Ghraib.


Exit strategies: In a multipart series The Guardian asks leading thinkers how the US can extricate itself from Iraq. A sampling:

Jonathan Schell: "President Bush said recently of the Iraqis, 'It's going to take a while for them to understand what freedom is all about.' Hachim Hassani, a representative of the Iraqi Islamic party, might have been answering him when he commented to the Los Angeles Times, 'The Iraqi people now equate democracy with bloodshed.' Under these circumstances, staying the course cannot benefit Iraq. On the contrary, each additional day that American troops continue to fight in Iraq can only compound the eventual price of the original mistake. More lives, American and Iraqi, will be lost; the society will be disorganised and pulverised; and any chances for a better future will be reduced, not fostered."

Noam Chomsky: "Reparations - not just aid - should be provided by those responsible for devastating Iraqi civilian society by cruel sanctions and military actions, and - together with other criminal states - for supporting Saddam Hussein through his worst atrocities and beyond. That is the minimum that honesty requires."

Howard Zinn: "The truth is, no one knows what will happen if the US withdraws. We face a choice between the certainty of mayhem if we stay and the uncertainty of what will follow if we leave."

Bloggers question Nicholas Berg's death: Many have been picking up on inconsistencies and confusing facts related to the videotaped beheading of American Nicholas Berg, some questioning the timing of its release (while Berg was captured April 10, the airing of the video distracts attention from US abuses at Abu Ghraib, some say) to the theory that Berg was already dead when the taped decapitation occurred.

Youch! A zinger from Thomas Friedman. Behold:
Why, in the face of the Abu Ghraib travesty, wouldn't the administration make some uniquely American gesture? Because these folks have no clue how to export hope. They would never think of saying, "Let's close this prison immediately and reopen it in a month as the Abu Ghraib Technical College for Computer Training — with all the equipment donated by Dell, H.P. and Microsoft." Why didn't the administration ever use 9/11 as a spur to launch a Manhattan project for energy independence and conservation, so we could break out of our addiction to crude oil, slowly disengage from this region and speak truth to fundamentalist regimes, such as Saudi Arabia? (Addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.) Because that might have required a gas tax or a confrontation with the administration's oil moneymen. Why did the administration always — rightly — bash Yasir Arafat, but never lift a finger or utter a word to stop Ariel Sharon's massive building of illegal settlements in the West Bank? Because while that might have earned America credibility in the Middle East, it might have cost the Bush campaign Jewish votes in Florida.

And, of course, why did the president praise Mr. Rumsfeld rather than fire him? Because Karl Rove says to hold the conservative base, you must always appear to be strong, decisive and loyal. It is more important that the president appear to be true to his team than that America appear to be true to its principles.


Power's beattitude problem: Pardon the religious interlude, but this essay by Kurt Vonnegut--where he says "our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees"--is too Vonnegutty to pass up:
Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

"As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?

How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!


From Abu Ghraib to Dover AFB: Understanding images of war

I've been largely silent on the photos of torture coming out of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison--more of which were published today--because it's so shocking and sad and unfathomable. And frankly, what can I add to the already-raging discussion? Any honorable person should be angry as hell, so instead of venting my ire, I'm posting the unedited version of my article from the print edition of the current Adbusters. The book I'm writing on, Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others--like the images of US-inflicted torture, charred bodies lynched on an Iraqi bridge, and flag-draped coffins coming home from Iraq--haunts me. Maybe Sontag has something to offer the discussion.

Those who oppose war on grounds of its unfathomable barbarity are backed up by harsh photographic evidence: a nude girl, three-quarters of her nine-year old body blistered by napalm, fleeing a South Vietnamese aerial attack; an Iraqi soldier frozen in the hatch of a bombed-out tank, his lips charred away to reveal long teeth, his uniform incinerated to expose striated black muscles. But, while we recoil at such images--agreeing, as we must, that war is hell--what good does it do?

Without a name for the dead or details of why they’re fighting, our ire has no focus. But when the dead are identified—a Palestinian child, an American GI, a North Vietnamese woman—the images lose their neutrality. Now we can place blame. In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag writes that photographs of war’s victims are "a species of rhetoric. They reiterate. They simplify. They agitate. They create the illusion of consensus." In 2004, as always, that rhetoric takes on a decidedly political tone.

During the Vietnam war, imagery turned Americans against military intervention. Watching footage of 58,000 formerly marching, laughing, high-school graduating young people return home in zipper bags can temper patriotic fervor. But by the end of the first Gulf War, George Bush declared, "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all." Why should Americans be gun-shy about entangling foreign wars when the casualty counts are so low, the killing is seemingly done on videogame monitors, and the dead come home in "transfer tubes"—a termed coined by the first Bush administration—instead of body bags? To further obscure war's gore, Bush issued a military order prohibiting the media from covering the arrival of dead soldiers at Dover Air Force Base, a policy his son, George W. Bush, enforces today. Thanks to this rule, you might've missed the news that the junior Bush's war in Iraq took more American lives by November 2003 than did Vietnam over its first three years.

While allowing us to see the human costs of "liberating Iraq" doesn’t serve Bush’s future war plans—after all, these 767 soldiers died at his command—keeping the dead in the public eye makes political sense when someone else is ordering the killing. A controversial Bush-Cheney campaign commercial, featuring a flag-draped body being removed from the site of the World Trade Center attacks, sends a clear message: Look what "they" did to us. Just as a photographer excludes some images when he focuses on others, the ad pinpoints a collective moment of shock, ignoring the complex issues that surround it.

"The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs," writes Sontag. "Harrowing photographs do not inevitably lose their power to shock. But they are not much help if the task is to understand." Bush, like any wartime president, would rather leave Americans staggered by a visceral image of vulnerability and impotence than have them asking questions. Why was the president hindering the 9/11 investigation? Why did the White House fly some 100 Saudi citizens, including members of the bin Laden family, out of the US days after the country’s biggest terrorist attack? Where's Osama? "Narratives can make us understand," says Sontag. "Photographs do something else: they haunt us."


Yes America Can(ada): In another prop malfunction, George W. Bush rode across Ohio yesterday in a campaign bus emblazoned with the words "Yes America Can." Turns out said bus was made in Canada.

Yes Men strike again: Agitprop art-pranksters The Yes Men covertly infiltrated a Heritage Foundation event and got 10 seconds of applause for announcing from the stage that, in light of George Bush's shortcomings, they were nominating former Reagan Attorney-General Ed Meese for president. "To the next President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America, Ed Meese III!"

No to Michael Moore flick: Disney is prohibiting its subsidiary Miramax from distributing Michael Moore's controversial new movie, Fahrenheit 9-11, which explores the links between the Bush and bin Laden families. As Moore reports, the film "might 'endanger' millions of dollars of tax breaks Disney receives from the state of Florida because the film will 'anger' the Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush." Maybe the flap will do for the film what Sinclair's censorship did for Nightline's ratings.

No women allowed: An astonishing report from Reuters:
The Bush administration has stripped information on a range of women's issues from government Web sites, apparently in pursuit of a political agenda, researchers reported on Wednesday.

"Vital information is being deleted, buried, distorted and has otherwise gone missing from government Web sites and publications," Linda Basch, president of the National Council for Research on Women, said in a telephone interview. "Taken cumulatively, this has an enormously negative effect on women and girls."

A council report said the missing information fell into four categories: women's health; their economic status; objective scientific data; and information aimed at protecting women and girls and helping them advance.


The Bush doctrine takes a beating: After 50 former British diplomats criticized Tony Blair's Iraq policy, 53 former US diplomats are accusing the Bush administration of sacrificing the United States' credibility in the world by blatantly siding with Ariel Sharon.

Losing Will: In a column titled "Time for Bush to See the Realities of Iraq," conservative columnist George Will starts out by quoting Bush's Rose Garden speech on Friday:
"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern."

What does such careless talk say about the mind of this administration? Note that the clearly implied antecedent of the pronoun "ours" is "Americans." So the president seemed to be saying that white is, and brown is not, the color of Americans' skin. He does not mean that. But that is the sort of swamp one wanders into when trying to deflect doubts about policy by caricaturing and discrediting the doubters.
Will continues: "This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts... Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice." Ouch.

More bruises: Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, the last US diplomat to meet Saddam before his capture, is getting his licks in on his old boss and the GOP:
If you're fiscally responsible, this is not your party. If you believe in a moderate foreign policy characterized by alliances, free trade and the ability to operate in an international environment, this is not your party. If you believe in limited federal government, this is not your party. If you believe that the government should stay out of your bedroom, this is very definitely not your party. In fact, I would argue that unless you believe in the American imperium, imposed on the world by force, or unless you believe in the literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations, this is not your party.
If it’s our war, let’s all fight it. If not… Former Marine Corps lieutenant (and founding editor of Texas Monthly) William Broyles, Jr., writes the most sensible defense of the draft in today’s New York Times. Having been called up himself to fight in Vietnam, and with his son serving in Iraq, his perspective is credible:
If this war is truly worth fighting, then the burdens of doing so should fall on all Americans. If you support this war, but assume that Pat Tillman and Other People's Children should fight it, then you are worse than a hypocrite. If it's not worth your family fighting it, then it's not worth it, period. The draft is the truest test of public support for the administration's handling of the war, which is perhaps why the administration is so dead set against bringing it back.